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Manistee native completes service project in South Africa

Manistee native completes service project in South Africa

MANISTEE — When Manistee native Caitlyn Villamaria enrolled at Ohio State University it was the with the idea of obtaining an education that would take her places. Manistee native Caitlyn Villamaria and three other Ohio State University students couldn’t help but make the “O” sign at the Cape of Good Hope during their trip to South Africa. The students who are from the school of business went on the trip on a GVI Education Abroad program to assist a South African business owner in promoting and making her business better. Recently the 2017 Manistee High School graduate, who is the daughter of Ron and Angie Villamaria of Manistee, traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, for a very unique learning experience. Villamaria is a junior finance major at OSU and minoring in entrepreneurship who is looking to some day make a mark in the business world. It was one of the reasons she was intrigued by a GVI Education Abroad program that runs in conjunction with Ohio State University that is giving students the opportunity to volunteer for service projects in their field of study. More importantly, it is a program that gives students like Villamaria the opportunity to utilize the business skills she had learned at the college. “I had this opportunity to interview to do a non profit consulting project in one of the locations of my choice and each location has specific topics,” said Villamaria. “Being a finance major, I wanted to do something that was more finance related and also my minor is entrepreneurship and so I kind of wanted to do something with that. I found that this project in Cape Town, South Africa, was micro-financing and entrepreneurship which was the two in one.” Villamaria said she applied, was interviewed and got accepted and the cost for the program was made possible by a donor through a scholarship. “They gave me money for a flight, my vaccines and everything,” said Villamara. “We had to take a class first to learn about the country you were going to so we could learn more about it.” One of Villamaria’s teammates takes a promotional photo of South African “Baby Friendly” business owner Zandile. The students were helped her with how to budget correctly, how to price her items more consistently and to just make sure she had opportunities to grow her business. Prior to going to South Africa, she was teamed up with three other business students at Ohio State on the program and assigned to a South African business called Baby Friendly. The team began meeting on campus for eight weeks prior to the trip to formulate a plan to assist the person and had weekly calls with the person named Zandile who ran this business. “We had weekly calls with her as she wanted to provide affordable clothing to the people in her Khayelitsha Township,” said Villamaria. “Some of those calls were to figure out what she wanted to do with her business. The main things we had to help her with were how to budget correctly, how to price her items more consistently and to just make sure she had opportunities to grow her business.” However, when the students arrived in South Africa, they quickly discovered some of the things were a little different than what they had worked on back in Columbus. “In entrepreneurship that kind of happens and issues just kind of come up and you have to adjust,” said Villamaria. The students spent two weeks in South Africa working with the owner on this plan and touring the area to get a feel for the community. “We would work all day and then after eating we would have to come down and have a lesson or two,” said Villamaria. “We also were able to do tour so many parts of that township that gave us so much valuable information. Learning more about the culture and what is there made it easier for us to help Zandile with her business.” One of the things they learned as well was the cost of online data is very expensive in South Africa and that helped them determine not to push the online sales as much. “That is just something we wouldn’t have thought of if we weren’t immersed in the culture,” said Villamaria. “Some of the things that we thought of as being simple here just don’t exist there. A good example she didn’t have a printer, so to print something out she had to take a bus for a 45 minute ride to her friend’s store to use her printer. That is something we never would have thought of, because they are just luxuries that we have that they don’t so we had to be creative with the way we could help.” One of the perks of the trip was in the down time they had the opportunity to see some of the real beauty of the South African landscape. Here Villamaria (right) and one of the students pose from an elevated area overlooking CapeTown. What also proved to be an eye opening experience was how under developed some of the areas just outside of Cape Town were where the target audience lived. “It was interesting to see just how entrepreneurial these people are despite not having much,” said Villamaria. “They call it their ‘hustle’ and basically we really didn’t get it at first. That means they are not worried about how they can make themselves rich. Their main focus is how to make the community better. In her case Zandile was looking at how to build a factory and employ the women from her area instead of first making a profit.” Villamaria said she just saw on Instagram that Zandile was involved in a pitch competition for entrepreneurship using some of the things they worked with her on to promote her business. The pitch competition is to raise funds to invest in her business. One of the tasks she had to do after returning was to write a blog article about the experience and how it changed her personally and professionally. “I think we helped her and we also learned so much from her, so it is an experience I will not forget,” said Villamaria. “The things I took away from it was work hard and you can achieve whatever you want to do. Having that whole community aspect in mind is something they want to do for their community and they are all thankful for what they have.” More importantly, it proved to be a lesson of a lifetime and something the Manistee native said will help her become successful some day in the world of business.

Manistee native completes service project in South Africa

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